Grand National: Free vote results in a Liverpool gain

GRAND NATIONAL: The death of two horses darkens an occasion when the frayed and the defiant march on Aintree: Crumpled-clothed faithful return to the track with tales of hardship as well as Scouse warmth. Guy Hodgson reports
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I was at Aintree as Lord Gyllene crossed the line yesterday but I had not really been at the 1997 Grand National. To have "been there" you had to have lain side by side with other refugees in the Everton Leisure Centre or danced with silk-clad jockeys at the disco in Liverpool's Adelphi Hotel. Those of us who turned up yesterday were like guests at a stranger's party.

It was not hard to find the battle-hardened. They were the ones with the badges made tatty by three days of use and a carefree air borne of release from recent, bigger uncertainties. Some were unshaved, others wore clothes that looked like they had been slept in. There was a good reason for that.

Every one had a tale to tell, from the locals who had come as an act of faith in a sporting institution to others who had simply not had the resources to go home. "They want shooting," one woman said about the IRA, who are being held responsible for Saturday's bomb scare.

An Irish band played, Beamish was being supped. Not far from him another man with an Irish accent was telling everyone who would listen how ashamed he was of the IRA.

Different people had different emotions. The brother of Joan Hall was in Maryland yesterday, his holiday running out before the horses could turn out. The National should have been the climax of his trip, instead it will go down as the day his wife was grateful she could return home at all. She had an angina attack as she waited outside Aintree in the cold for three hours on Saturday and the family could only shudder at what might have happened but for the help of a policeman who called an ambulance.

"Fazakerley Hospital was like a morgue," Joan Hall said. "There had been a coach crash and people were laid out all over the place with collars round there necks. There were dozens of people from the races desperate for medication that was trapped in their cars. I know they had to ring one doctor in Australia because a man did not know what he was on."

Elsewhere on the night after the warning before, people were counting the expense of the postponement. One man, Roland Puzey, an agricultural student from Shropshire, had made three trips to Aintree in three days. Saturday, Sunday to collect his car and Monday to watch the horses actually jump. "It's an act of defiance," he said "To show that the terrorists can't win. I don't want to think about how much it has cost."

Ken Mobey, was struck at the egalitarian nature of Saturday's suffering. "Everyone had it the same, the VIPs like the rest of us. I saw England's cricket captain, Mike Atherton, wandering around looking totally lost while my son bumped into Dick Francis. He's a multi-millionaire, a writer of dozens of books, and he was purple with the cold.

"I'm from Manchester and we're wary of Scousers but I have to say they couldn't have been better. They were so generous. I saw people inviting complete strangers into their houses to offer them cups of tea. They even let people sleep there. They did the race proud."

The 1997 race belonged to Liverpudlians. They came to the fore on Saturday and came again in their thousands to Aintree yesterday, a cavalry charge of people pouring in even a minute before the off. It was the free National, the Scousers National, locals anxious to support an event laid low by the terrorist's most sinister and subtle weapon, the phone.

"It's our event," Lynne Jones, who lives a good gallop away from Aintree, said. "It belongs to the country, but it belongs to Liverpool too. I just felt I had to be here."